Engine: Ford Racing 5.0-litre V8 petrol
Power/torque: 435bhp @ 6500rpm/399lb ft
Gearbox: Mercedes 722.6 five-speed auto
Suspension: Nene V2 system, Fox dampers, progressive springs
Brakes: AP Racing 350mm discs front and rear, AP Racing six-pot calipers at front
LRO RWT mpg: 17.5
Price as tested: £90,000
380 MILES TO GET THE FULL LOWDOWN...
To be honest, I sometimes struggle to see the point of high-spec, high-powered Defenders. Why turn a good workhorse into a road machine instead of just buying a performance car? This is the Mustang V8-powered 90 featured in LRO’s April 2015 issue. It was built to order by Nene Overland from a County XS that already had some Overfinch luxuries. You get the idea: lots of power and lots of money. But is it a better package than a standard Defender? Do you lose any of the Defender’s capabilities? Can you really drive it at speed, or is it an accident waiting to happen? How much petrol will it drink? And, crucially, how much fun is it?
So I leapt at the chance to put aside my prejudices and subject it to LRO’s Real World Test. I was in for a pleasant surprise.
Off we go
At first I wondered what all the fuss was about. Progress up the A1 was swift and sonorous, but not particularly inspiring, and the exhaust note at 70mph felt a bit intrusive. Nene’s interior trimmings and the Overfinch leather seats certainly took the chore out of the drive. But it wasn’t until I was in Yorkshire, lining up to overtake a lorry on a single-carriageway, that I realised what this vehicle is all about.
Keep your foot on the accelerator as the revs climb clear of about 3500rpm, and the engine’s character immediately changes. The bellowing exhaust note mutates into a banshee shriek accompanied by a sweeping rush of power that keeps on coming as the engine spins ever higher. This is variable valve timing at work – and boy can you feel it!
Torque in Land Rover engines usually comes in big dollops as low as possible, but this feels more like a racing engine – the thrill comes at the top. Maximum power is delivered at 6500rpm, only 500rpm off the limit.
For quicker access to those revs you may want to override the autobox by downshifting, so I’d specify the paddle shifters from Nene’s options list. I also found myself upshifting sometimes – the ‘box can be a bit excitable!
Carrying this much pace in a normal 90 would usually end with a short expletive and an excursion into a hedgerow. But Nene’s V2 suspension set-up with progressive coil springs keeps the Defender admirably upright and composed in the corners, without the excessive firmness you’d expect from sporty suspension.
Thanks to Fox dampers, bumps are swept over with little of the pitching and diving that Defender drivers are used to. Okay, there’s no hiding the fact that there are heavy beam axles underneath – there’s only so much you can do – but the result is very impressive. The hefty AP Racing brakes also feel very unstressed.
And the greenlanes?
No drama here. It’s still a Defender. Tickover will have you trundling a bit too fast for technical driving, but low box and diff lock are there when you need them. Although falling short of Range Rover ride quality, bigger bumps are dispatched surprisingly gracefully.
It’s not hard to be impressed by this blend of performance car driveability and Defender versatility. It even has a towbar.
The only significant weakness is the lack of extreme axle articulation due to the large wheels and tyres, but that wasn’t a problem on the greenlanes – and anyway, are you really going to take this to a pay-and-play?
The engine is epic, and at 17.5mpg it drinks about as much as an old Rover V8. That’s quite a thirst, but considering the nature of the beast, it’s borderline acceptable.
What's the point?
LRO’s Real World Test gives an independent, ‘real world’ fuel economy figure based on a varied and enjoyable 380-mile route, rather than sitting on a dyno.
It’s a big drive to do in one day, so we get up early and start by brimming the fuel tank at a garage on the A1 in Lincolnshire.
By doing the same at the end, it’s easy to get a precise ‘combined mpg’ figure – meaning a blend of motorways, fast A-roads, country roads, a couple of long greenlanes and a rush-hour city crawl. And, we find out more along the way!
Our test route
Bloody Oaks services, Stamford > A1 north Knaresborough > Arncliffe > Kettlewell > Middleham > Bainbridge > Stalling Busk (byway) > Hubberholme > Cam High Road (byway) > Wensleydale Creamery, Hawes > Settle > Silsden > Bradford > M62 east > Ferrybridge > A1 south > Bloody Oaks services, Stamford